"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A View to a Kill - Video Game JFK Reloaded Is "Just Plain Creepy."

Would you buy your kids a video in which you are "trying to kill your president?" JFK Reloaded, produced by the Scottish company Traffic, is a game in which player looks down a sight, pulls the trigger, and "kills" an American president, allowing kids to re-live the experience of the purported JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

The developers claim that this is an eductional game, one that inspires kids to become interested in American history and "to debunk the assassination conspiracy theories by buttressing the Warren Commission's conclusion that Oswald acted alone and fired only three bullets."

The games puts the player precisely where Oswald stood--the sixth floor window of the Texas Schoolbook Depository--"and challenges you to re-create his three shots." The closer you get to matching his three trajectories, the closer to a perfect score of 1,000. (And to top this, and more revolting, the game designers are also offering a cash prize to the player who gets the highest score!)

Slate writer Clive Thompson comes to the same conclusion that I have: the game is marvel "of precise physics," but its a "nauseating experience."

According to Thompson:

When gamers play "blood-soaked shoot-em up games, the vamped-up violence doesn't bother me--the more cartoonish the action, the fewer consequences the game seems to have. Even war games where you're theoretically fighting a real enemy--like the German or American or Japanese armies--don't feel personal. But JFK Reloaded is different. When you peer through the rifle scope, the faces of JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy (and Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife Nellie) are completely recognizable. These are real people who still have immediate living relatives--or, in the case of Nellie Connally, are still alive.

The game allows alternate scenarios. The gamer may kill any of the four passengers and driver at will in any order. Killing the driver first will result in the car veering off the road into a lightpost.

Thompson goes on to say that the kill of JFK was unsatisfactory:

When I finally managed to kill JFK and watched his head blow open while he flopped forward like a rag doll, I was genuinely horrified. The game wants you to think about what's happening as a mere physics experiment, but you can't, nor would you want to. Because it's focused solely on the narrow question of whether you can replicate Oswald's shots, it doesn't try to achieve the sort of catharsis that is supposed to come from wrenching art. When the ballistics reports told me, for example, that one of my shots hit JFK in the right shoulder, exited his chest, bounced off his right fingers, and ricocheted through the limo until it hit Connally in the shin, I wasn't really thinking about how if I just aimed a little higher, then I could've gotten closer to 1,000 points.

There are any number of reasons why this game should never have been marketed. Beside the obvious insensitivity for living Nellie Connally and the surviving family members, this game encourage, or even condones, the killing of actual people, desensitizing gamers, usually young people, to murder, even the encouragement of political assassination.

Was this the real of the game developers? Under the guise of gaming, 3-D simulation, marvels of physics, the debunking of conspiracy theorists, the inventors of this game have sunk to a new low. Would you buy this game for your kids or even allow them to play it? I wouldn't.


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